The circumstances involving the two young black men were very different. But the results were the same. Both were slain, and their deaths have triggered dismay and rage at the police and a quasi-authority figure. Trayvon Martin is the first. His story is well known.
He was a young black male walking home, unarmed, with no criminal record, stalked by a rogue, self-appointed neighborhood watchman, and then murdered; the shooter skips away scot free, and that fact ignites mass protests, demonstrations, and investigations, and officials from the President Obama on down brand it a tragedy.
The other is Kendrec McDade. He was also a black teen, a former high school football star at Azusa High School in a suburb of Los Angeles, and had no criminal record. When the dust settled, McDade also lay dead.
In his case, he was slain by Pasadena, California police officers. McDade, like Martin, was unarmed. Police, acting on a bogus tip about a robbery, allegedly confronted McDade and a friend on March 24th, and then opened fire when they claimed they saw him reach for something in his pants.
The shooting happened at night. Police claimed a surveillance videotape showed McDade as a “lookout” in a petty theft attempt, but refused demands to produce the tape. Police and city officials, the NAACP and the California Legislative Black Caucus branded the shooting a tragedy, and official’s promised an independent investigation. However, as with Trayvon Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, Pasadena police did not say what action, if any, they took against the officers that killed McDade.
As with Martin, the predictable happened: he was slain again — in the court of public opinion. He’s been assailed by the non-stop litany of veiled and not so veiled hints, innuendos, digs, and crass, snide, accusing comments, remarks, slander and outright lies about his alleged bad background.
The deaths of McDade and Martin triggered the inevitable soul searching about why so many young black males continue to be ready-made targets of official violence. And why the perpetrators, more often than not, get away with it facing minimal or no punishment.
The image assault on McDade and Martin has two objectives. The first is to poison the public well enough to build sympathy for the shooter. In Martin’s case, that was Zimmerman. In McDade’s case, it is the Pasadena police officers that killed him.
The even more devious and insidious object is to reinforce in the public mind the ingrained thug image of young black males.
Once that image kicks in, it’s the shortest of short steps to think that an innocent man, such as Martin or McDade, can be depicted as a caricature of the terrifying image that much of the public still harbors about young black males. Then that image seems real, even more terrifying, and for some police officers and self-appointed vigilantes such as Zimmerman, it’s a virtual license to kill.
The negative racial typecasting and the perennial threat that racial stereotypes continue to pose great danger to the safety and well-being of black males, despite every effort to counter it with positive images of achieving young black men, has shown no sign of diminishing.
A Pasadena police official, in recounting the fateful events that led up to the officers gunning down McDade, was candid, and admitted that the phony report of a theft, a gun, and a black male created “a mindset” in the officers that opened up on McDade. Zimmerman, by his own admission on the 911 tapes, identified Martin by his race and used an expletive to say that “they always get away.”
The “they” is of course young black men such as Martin and McDade. They are only the latest in a long train of victims that have paid the price for being young, black males, and for the mindset that says they are fair game for attack. McDade may not be Martin, but he’s just as dead, and just as much a victim of the public’s fear of men like them.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour, heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter.